GSSR 2010 No. 9 – Where do we park?

Greetings all!

Our group is still in Nagasaki. We have made plans to depart a couple of times, but have had troubles figuring out where to go, plus have had weather issues.

As I mentioned in my last blog we will now be leaving mainland Japan, and traversing an island chain called the Ryukyus that stretch nearly 700 miles between mainland Japan and Taiwan.

Our original plan was to ‘island hop’ our way across the chain, seeking out pretty bays to drop our anchors. However, as we have started studying the islands, we’ve realized that this was naïve thinking. The islands are volcanic, with rapidly dropping depths and few protected bays. Many of the islands do have a port, but the ports are usually nothing more than a breakwater sheltering a wall, where there is little room for anything more than a few fishing boats. A single, medium sized, sailboat might be able to enter the ports, but we are three large power boats, and there is nowhere to put us.

We have very little information about the islands, and fear arriving at an island, after a long day at sea, only to find that there is no place to safely anchor.

Roberta’s and my son, Chris, flew to Japan last week, because he wanted to visit one of the Ryukyu islands, called Yakushima. Unfortunately, we had to break the news to him that the weather wouldn’t allow us to depart Nagasaki. Yakushima was showing high winds and severe rain. Chris was very disappointed because he has dreamed for many years of someday hiking Yakushima. The island is mostly uninhabited, and is a World Heritage site. Thousands of tourists flock to Yakushima each year for hiking.


I did a little research and discovered that a high speed ferry runs the approximate 100 nautical miles from Kagoshima Japan to Yakushima island in just over two hours. From Nagasaki it is possible to take a train or fly to Kagoshima. It wouldn’t be easy, but we had a way to get Chris out to Yakushima, and we had our own reasons for wanting to visit the island.

We wanted to look at the port on Yakushima in person…

In the picture above you see Ambo port on Yakushima. You’ll note that there is nothing that looks like a normal marina. Other than on Okinawa (which is another whole can of worms I’ll talk about later in this blog), none of the Ryukyu islands have anything resembling a marina. The best we can hope for is a wall to tie to, or a protected anchorage.

It isn’t visible in the picture above, but towards the center there is a small well protected area where fishing boats are tied to a wall. Unfortunately, there is no space for our boat within the fishing port.

However, I did see a wall that I thought we could tie to. At the time I took this photo, I assumed we were in great shape, and that the GSSR boats would be coming to Yakushima. However, when Roberta and I were departing Yakushima we took another look at the port. The winds were up a little, but not particularly high. At 20 knots of wind, the wall where I had thought we could tie up was being battered by a good four foot of very active swell. At the least we would be uncomfortable, and if the wind should come up a bit more, our boats would be slammed into the wall. Yakushima has another larger port, Myanoura, but I was told that Myanoura is not as well protected, and the swell is much worse.

This was a bit of a life-changing moment for the GSSR, in that it was when the fact was really driven home that my vision of island hopping was not really practical. Yakushima is one of the largest islands in the Ryukyu chain, and Ambo is one of the larger ports we were likely to see. If Ambo couldn’t offer shelter from the seas, what chance did we have at the smaller ports? Our powerboats are quite unusual in these waters, where normally the world divides three ways: small fishing boats, freighters, and a handful of small sailboats. There are inner basins in many of the ports, which do provide good shelter to the fishing boats, and if we were smaller, or if there were just one of our boats, we might be able to fit. Or, if we were freighters, the swell, when tied to a wall in the port, wouldn’t be a huge problem.

Roberta and I rented a car and drove most of the way around the island. We did not see one boat at anchor, and did not see one bay where we felt the boats could be safely anchored.

Overall, it was a disheartening experience.


There was one major bright spot. While Chris was hiking up the mountain, Roberta and I roughed it at the 5-star Sankara resort and spa. It felt good to be back on land for a couple days!

Back at Nagasaki, our group met to discuss our strategy for the Ryukyus…

Whereas we had originally planned to cross the islands with short hops, we now decided we’d be smarter to focus on watching for good weather windows and run around the clock stopping only at the larger islands. The first of the larger islands, which can offer good shelter, is called Amami, and is 250 miles from our current location.

We can run from Nagasaki to Amami, direct,  in just 31 hours.

Both of the pictures above show today’s weather for the same region.

The first picture shows the wind speed. The arrows show the wind direction, and the number of ‘feathers’ on each arrow show the speed of the wind. Each feather represents 10 knots of wind. From Nagasaki to Amami most of the arrows have only a single feather, meaning the winds are running just 10 knots. And, nicely, the wind is blowing roughly the same direction we are moving. Looking at the wind chart alone it appears like a very good ride.

However, the second chart tells a slightly different story. The second chart tells us what direction the waves are coming from, how tall they are, and how far apart they are (their frequency, or period.) The color tells us the height of the waves, with the darkest brown being 12 foot waves, and the darkest of the blue representing calm seas. Most of our run would be in the ‘green’ zone, which corresponds to seven foot waves. The large arrows on the chart tell me the waves will be coming from the east, and by moving my mouse around on the image (which won’t work for you) I can find the timing between waves. Waves that are far apart are much friendlier than tightly spaced waves. Ideally, we’d like waves to be 10 seconds or more. In this particular case, the waves are 6.5 seconds apart.

Because our run will span 31 hours, looking at a single slice of the weather is inadequate. We need to analyze the weather all along our route, and look at each six hour period, and where we’ll be. And, of course, we need to leave a wide margin of error, because the timing of storms and the location of storms can vary wildly. If there is storm activity in an area, you need to assume it can drift your direction at any moment.

Looking at this weather, our analysis was that we could make the run, but that it had the potential to be an uncomfortable ride. If we were commercial fisherman, or professional captains running freighters, we wouldn’t give it a second of thought – this would be a good weather report, and we’d be headed to sea. However, we’re not commercial anything. We’re doing this for fun, and can pick our weather. Why get beat up if we don’t have to?

Further complicating our decision is that we are in a wonderful location. We are at a charming marina, with a floating dock, and shorepower, in the heart of Nagasaki. Outside our boats are a wide array of restaurants, all the shopping we could want, many entertainment options and we’re within a few blocks of a train station. Our willingness to head to sea in dubious conditions definitely corresponds to the level of fun we are having in our current location. Also, once we leave Nagasaki we are not likely to see a floating dock, or shore power for two months!

Ultimately, we decided to sit still until we see the calmest seas possible. This is not a race.

And as an example of how reality can vary from fantasy…

Okinawa is the ‘big island’ in the Ryukyu chain. I had always assumed that finding a marina there would be easy, but our agent has sent several emails saying he was having a hard time. Then, a few days ago, he sent this message:

                   Marinas in Okinawa

Contacted 4 marinas to check mooring in Okinawa but finally received positive reply only from Okinawa Marina (26 19.08N 127 50.53E). Other 3 marinas could not provide good berth for 3 boats due to lack of space.

Okinawa Marina would agree mooring 3 boats from 6/19 -29 subject to your confirmation.

– Draft is not enough for Sans Souci. Sans Souci will be grounded on low tide.
The Bottom of the marina is mud mainly but not guarantee.
– Water is available but no electricity.
– Triple banking.

I checked the charts for the Okinawa marina, that our agent refers to, and it shows on Nobeltec as 3 foot 3 inches at the entrance, and 3 foot 11 inches inside the marina. Sans Souci is over 7 feet deep. Grey Pearl and Seabird are over six feet deep. The bottom line is that only one marina will have us, and none of us can get into it. Argh!

Our agent has been incredible, but my first reaction was that he wasn’t digging deep enough. Plus, I just spoke with the owner of a 51’ sailboat who was recently in Okinawa and he was absolutely convinced that one of the marinas, called Ginowan, could handle our boats. Normally, I’d call the marinas myself, but with the language barrier, that isn’t possible. After a bit of frustration I started looking for someone on the island who spoke English who could help. I started googling for English speaking dive shops and fishing charter boats, and found an American who runs a sportfishing boat out of Okinawa. He was a wealth of information. To make a long story short, he basically said that our agent was right. There are no marinas in Okinawa that can handle our boats. The draft on our boats is too deep.

Our only option in Okinawa will be to tie to a wall, in a commercial shipping port. This has many downsides. Often the ports are well out of town. There are waves to contend with, and it is very difficult, and dangerous, to get off the boats. There is no shore power. Our fenders get destroyed by the walls. The esthetics are horrible.  There is often no easy way to get to town. It can also be expensive. The commercial shipping ports don’t really want small boats against their walls. Our agent has to hire a local agent, who tries to get us permission to tie up. In one city we paid $7 per day to the port, but over $500 per boat in local agency fees!

Usually within the ports are areas that are reserved for the local fisherman. These tend to be the most protected areas within the commercial ports. You are still tied to a wall, but at least there is less swell. We’ve been told that if you ask the local fisherman nicely, they will often give you a place within their area of the port. However, with three large boats, and no ability to speak Japanese, our ability to pursue this option is limited.

Ignore my whining, things are actually pretty darn great…



The picture above lifted my spirits immensely. It’s the holy grail of cruising, or at least for Ken-style cruising. Thus far, we’ve been cruising mainland Japan, where the waters are mucky, and virtually every square foot of water front is paved over. It’s nice having big cities around us, and marinas with shore power, but the truth is, I could have gotten that in Seattle. Mainland Japan is also tightly controlled. We’ve seen very few anchoring opportunities, and the Coast Guard has had strong opinions on where, or if,  we can anchor. Even if we were to drop our anchors, the water has been too dirty, or too cold, to inspire much of a desire to dive or swim.

We’re heading south, and the water is starting to warm up. When we left Osaka the water was at 56 degrees, and here in Nagasaki it is up to 73 degrees. I don’t know the water temperature in Okinawa, but suspect I will be very happy. Of course, with warmer water comes the risk of typhoons, which is a concern, but we believe that the port at Okinawa will offer good protection from typhoons.

The picture above is from Zamami island about 25 miles from Okinawa. It seems to have plenty of great locations for anchoring, and whereas I was originally thinking we would spend a couple of weeks in Okinawa, I’m now thinking that if the weather permits, I’ll be spending as much time as possible anchored in the islands. We will want to go to Okinawa, and there is a compelling story to tell about Okinawa’s role in WWII. But, unless our wall turns out to be nicer than I’m predicting, or the weather limits our options, I’ll be enjoying life at anchor.

And, as I think about leaving mainland Japan…

Over the past thirty years, I have been to Japan many times for various reasons, and thought I had seen Japan, but really most of what I saw was the airport, the inside of taxis, the inside of a hotel, and a few shrines. Cruising here is much different. Instead of visiting Japan, we are living here. We don’t speak the language, and will never be Japanese, but we’ve seen far more of Japan than the average tourist or businessperson ever does. In fact, we’ve probably seen more of Japan than most Japanese have ever seen.

One interesting thing about Japan is how much it is all the same. There are some regional differences, but generally speaking, if you are downtown in Sapporo (northern Japan) or Nagasaki (southern Japan) you aren’t going to see much difference. By comparison, I remember a game I used to play during my working days, when traveling on business. When we were stuck at the airport for hours killing time, waiting on a flight, we would look at the other gates, and try to guess where the plane was going. Just by how people were dressed, their demographics, and how they carried themselves, you could have a pretty good idea if they were headed for Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Las Vegas, or many other American cities. We weren’t always right, but I don’t think I could play that game, at all, in a Japan airport. I’m not arguing that it is good or bad, but there is a uniformity to Japan that does not exist in the United States.

Other than my concerns about the Japaaese economy I am very impressed by Japan. There is very little poverty and as an American, the crime statistics are somewhat embarrassing. For instance, in one study I read (from 1990) Japan annually has only 1.3 robberies per 100,000 people, versus 233 per 100,000 in the United States. The Japan murder rate is 1.1 per 100,000 people, versus the United States at 8.7 per 100,000. Whereas it is hard to relate to the statistics, you immediately sense the safety when walking on the streets. I have never felt unsafe walking anywhere, or riding a train, in Japan.

I do not understand why there is so little crime in Japan, but wish they had a way to export it.

One possible answer is the minimal drug use. For instance, in one article on the topic I found this comment:

           “…Drugs aren’t very common in Japan. In the mid 1980s, Japanese officials were worried that their country was experiencing a major drug epidemic when the number of cases of suspected heroin possession nationwide jumped from 29 cases to 36 cases. An official embarrassed by the “high” numbers pointed out that the numbers only represented suspected cases, not arrests or convictions, which were much fewer.

In 2010 the Japanese government health ministry estimated that 2.76 million Japanese (2.9 percent of the population) had used illegal drugs. Japan has the lowest levels of drug abuse in the developed world.….”

Whereas there is relatively low drug use, alcohol consumption certainly exists. There are pubs everywhere, and drinking is part of the local culture. I saw one report that said, “…although alcohol consumption is now decreasing in most industrialized countries, it has quadrupled in Japan since 1960…”

My opinion: “it’s the culture.” The Japanese have a very high sense of honor, politeness and quality.

Anyway… back to boating…

I just finished a book by Captain Richard Philips, called “A Captain’s Duty” talking about his experience with pirates off Somalia. I highly recommend the book, although it is probably not something I should be reading while contemplating cruising in the region.

I was curious if he had any insight as to things he would do differently. Although I avoid danger, there is no such thing as a truly safe cruising ground. Somalia does not have an exclusive patent on piracy. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, bad things can happen. It doesn’t hurt to do a little research on these things.

ICaptain Philips and his crew all survived the attack and subsequent kidnapping. He did a lot of things right. And, of course, having the Navy Seals on his team helped the story have a happy ending.

I hadn’t realized that he had been approached by a different set of pirates the day before the primary attack which is the subject of the book. He was several hundred miles out to sea when he observed a suspicious group of boats approaching from seven miles out. They were a pack of small boats, too far out to sea, and moving too fast, to be anything other than pirates, and they were coming right at him. The pirates were moving at 20 knots, and his top speed was 16, so it was just a matter of time until capture. He was able to evade them by faking a radio conversation with a navy warship. The pirates ran rather than risk capture.

I had just read about this incident, when I read this message board posting, about a similar approach,  on the Passagemaking Under Power discussion group earlier this week:

           “…On launching day May 20th we faced the decision what to do about Venezuela. Do a strait run through pirate alley to Margarita, do a dog leg via Los Testigos to Margarita or, go up to Grenada and then follow the 12th Lat west and bypassing Margarita with the cheap diesel, cheap rum, cheap beer, cheap everything, or pack it in, sell the boat and hide up in Canada in the bush. We’ve done the straight run Trinidad-Margarita-Trinidad three times in the past. Every time at night past the most dangerous section, the coast of the Peninsula de Paria between Boca Grande (the entrance to the Gulf of Paria by Trinidad) and west toward the Venezuelan city of Carupano. This is the most active section in Venezuela with piracy. Just in April this year a yacht got hit and the skipper got shot. Another hit was in Dec. 2009. The Caribbean Safety and Security Net website: is a good site to get information about problems in the Caribbean islands.

After some serious discussion with my wife, we came to the decision to risk it one more time the old fashion way using following criteria:

1. Run this section in the dark of the night
2. No running lights
3. Constant radar watch
4. Only when big ships approach then switch on running lights for necessary time
5. Change the amber bezel of our pilot house roof mounted strobe light to the blue one (for plowing snow in Canada)
6. Keep both flare guns handy with plenty of flares
7. Put new batteries into the cattle prod
8. Dig out the can of bear deterrent spray
9. Check out the function of our pilot house roof mounted award winning ambulance, fire truck and police siren with the wail-yelp-pierce and horn
10. Stay calm, no panic, create a diversion in case it happens.

I love point 9 myself. The test was positive as the boatyard dog took off like a rocket when the horn opened up. The plan, when having a pirate contact, is to stop for a second and turn the bow toward the pinero of the pirates, switch on the powerful 10″ search light on top of DD, switch on the blue strobe and the red strobe on top of the mast and fire up the siren. In case this does not change their minds, then we would run toward them. Remember, at night every cat looks grey. The Diesel Ducks got a very official look, especially in the dark. Okay, when this does not change their minds, then we’d run like heck and start defending ourselves.

So on May 20, we launched at Power Board Yard in Trinidad at noontime. We had alrady cleared out with Customs and Immigration and at 17:00 hr we were on our way. At 19:00 hr in the dark, we crossed the borderline to Venezuela on a direct curse to Isla Margarita. Two commercial freighters passed us during the night and we switched on our running lights during this process. At about 05:00 hr in the twilight of the morning, a pinero crossed our bow. I switched on the blue strobe for a moment and the pinero took off like a flash. At noontime on May 21st the anchor went down in Margarita and I quietly exchanged the blue bezel strobe light for the amber one. …”

And this seems a good time to change the subject, so I’ll mention something for the techies…

The shore power at our current marina in Nagasaki is only 100 volt, and there isn’t much of it. Plus, Sans Souci has dual 50 amp power connectors, and there are only 30 amp plugs. Grey Pearl and Seabird were able to make the power work by using a dual 30 amp to single 50 amp connector. I don’t have one, and have been without shore power for the entire 17 days we’ve been here. We’re running air conditioning, so I’ve been running the 20kw generator around the clock.

I just checked my fuel consumption. Sans Souci has consumed 225 gallons since our arrival, and this is over a 17 day (or, 408 hour) period. Doing the math, this works out to .55 gallons per hour for the generator. This is less than I expected, and is not bad. I’ve had to change the oil a couple of times, and would rather have shore power, but we’re doing ok.

And lastly…
I’ve been corresponding with, and following, the blog of Scott and Cindy Stolnitz who are now in Polynesia, on a sailing catamaran. They just posted a video of themselves swimming with the sharks in Bora Bora that is very cool, and very frightening.

Halfway through the video you’ll see something you’ve probably never seen before. Cindy grabs the tail of a LARGE shark and lets it pull her around for a bit. Don’t EVER expect to see video of me doing anything like that!

That’s it for now. More when we head back to sea.

Thank you!

Ken Williams
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
And, if you are interested in my books, check out : 


PS Steven Argosy on Seabird just posted a blog entry. He has a picture in his blog, of Roberta cleaning Sans Souci, that is very funny:


Starr is still cruising Japan, independently of Sans Souci, and just published a very entertaining and educational blog:

4 Responses

  1. Paul:

    I did not do the underwater camera. I thought about it, but convinced myself that the lens would constantly need cleaning.

    Instead, I have a small camera that dangles from a long cord that I use to look at my props, when in clear water. It works ok, but far from perfectly.

    Thank you!
    -Ken W

  2. Hi Ken and Roberta

    Just wanted to drop you a line to say thank you for and interesting, informative and inspiring blog.

    I did want to ask you one thing if that’s ok? Did you have the underwater camera fitted (seem to remember it being listed in the boat spec) and if so do/have you used it?

    Safe passage


  3. Gil:

    Sea snakes???? I don’t do sea snakes!

    Thank you for the info on Okinawa. It has been frustrating to be on the boat for nearly two months, and not really having been at anchor. You cannot imagine how much I am looking forward to heading south to the warmer clear water and being at anchor.

    -Ken W

  4. SUBJECT: Okinawa


    More years ago than I would care to remember, I was stationed in Iwakuni, and Okinawa with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (Flight Surgeon primarily flying in F4 squadrons, and crew in the annual Around Miyajima Sailing Regatta). I distinctly remember snorkeling many beautiful coves on the Western shore of Okinawa, North of the Kadena Air Base at Naha. Given your wind and current maps, some of these should provide ideal anchorages.

    I also remember visiting a beautiful botanical park, further northwest of Naha, perhaps a 2 hour drive, with ancient Koi, and an ocean research station that we were able to tour. That facility was anchored in perhaps 50 feet, less than 100 yards offshore, and looked like a futuristic cross between a modern drilling rig, and a James Bond villain domicile.

    Yes, the water was clean, clear, and comfortably warm for snorkeling. As for the sea snakes… Well, they never actually bothered us. Talk to the American dive master for local knowledge.

    Hope this helps.

    Bon voyage.


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